Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Not Just A Pretty Face

Don't judge a book by its cover. It's a common maxim, passed down from generation to generation. And like any good rule, it deserves to be broken from time to time. For instance, I would never read this book. Whereas I would read this book in a heartbeat despite the large chance that it's unreadable.

A rule should exist that says don't judge an actor by his dreamy eyes, electric smile, chiseled chin, and exquisite nose. Of course, even if that rule existed, I still would have broken it. Because I've definitely written a number of actors off as "pretty boys" only to later be forced to alter my opinion.

The most recent example would be Ryan Gosling. In the space of just a few days, I watched both Lars & the Real Girl and Half Nelson. While he gave a quiet, subtle performance in both films, the characters are quite different. Sure, they're both broken and trying to solve their problem in the wrong way, but if they ever met I doubt they'd like each other.

And the roles are especially different from his star-making performance in The Notebook, where the hardest thing he had to do was make-out in the rain with Rachel McAdams. (Admittedly a bit difficult because he was obliged to restrain himself until he could deliver some lines.)

To be fair to Gosling, he had good chemistry with her, and his performance had nothing to do with the many, many reasons I hated about that movie. But I figured he would be just another pretty face who would appear in a bunch of romantic comedies that Matthew McConaughey passed on because of age issues or shirts being required.

Instead, he followed them up with the aforementioned roles. So he is not only a gifted actor but also a man who chooses his films with care. (I'll give him a pass on Stay, since all the theater-goers did as well.)

The problem is that for every Ryan Gosling, there's five Ashton Kutchers. That is, guys who get roles based simply on their looks and never progress beyond what first got them recognition. Kutcher is physically appealing in that jerky frat boy kind of way. Unfortunately, his comedy is appealing in a similar way, only in very short increments and generally only if you've not actually been through college yet. (Or if you are a jerk frat boy. You always laugh at what you know.)

I would write Gosling off as an anomaly if this was the first time this had happened, but there have been other success stories. George Clooney is one of my favorite people lately, much less actors. But for awhile he was just a guy that got a few movie deals because he was the cute doctor on ER.

Even in films of his that I enjoyed, such as Out of Sight, I felt that he was getting by more on charisma than acting. (Only later did I realize that his charisma was part of his acting, a fact that he figured out earlier on and has used to perfection.)

It wasn't until Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? that I began to give him some credit. His association with the Coen Brothers made him infinitely cooler. He's taken on a lot of different things since then and proved his chops as an actor. He was beyond fantastic in Michael Clayton, a point driven home by the fact that my favorite moment of the film is his silent taxi ride during the credits. The entire film plays over in your mind as you watch him contemplating everything that's happened.

Probably the ultimate example of facial judging was my experience with Brad Pitt. I'm not sure when he first popped onto my radar, but for awhile there (A Rivers Runs Through It, Interview with a Vampire, Legends of the Fall, Seven Years in Tibet) it seemed that he was just testing out how many hairstyles he could pull off. (Seriously?)

Even his role in the incredibly dark Seven commented on his "pretty face," as John Doe apologized for having to bash it in.

Once he tried to sell death as sexy in Meet Joe Black, I was pretty much fed up. So when what I thought was an excuse for him to show off his abs hit theaters, I didn't bother to see it.

But I was so wrong about Fight Club. I don't love the movie now as much as I did back then, but I still love Pitt's crazy laugh. Probably my favorite laugh ever. I wish I could do it.

Since then, he's still done some roles that required little more than for him to look good. (Really, what is Ocean's Eleven other than an experiment to show how cool it looks when a bunch of hots guys walk together in slow motion?) But he's taken on some dramatic roles, and, more importantly, had some fun, whether it's voicing Boomhauer's brother on King of the Hill or playing a dirty, incomprehensible boxer in Snatch.

So I want to apologize to these people, and any other "pretty boys" that I forgot about. Being exceptionally good-looking and using that to get a few lead roles isn't a crime as long as you don't squander your talent. (If hotness is your only talent, then I guess I can't blame you for continuing to do it, but it doesn't mean I have to like you either.)

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